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President Biden pardons 2 lucky turkeys in annual White House ceremony

Liberty and Bell, 4-month-old turkeys from Minnesota, were specially raised as part of the "presidential flock" and trained to be in the spotlight.
President Biden to pardon 2 lucky turkeys in annual ceremony
Posted at 11:48 AM, Nov 20, 2023

Two lucky turkeys have just been given a presidential pardon.

It's part of an annual tradition in which a U.S. president spares the life of a turkey in a ceremony at the White House — saving them from ending up on someone’s Thanksgiving dinner table. 

On his 81st birthday, President Joe Biden saved Liberty and Bell, who were hatched in July, and are each about 42 pounds. 

"I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell," the president said in a ceremony that marked the unofficial start of the holiday season. "Congratulations, birds," he laughed.

The National Turkey Federation has been the official turkey supplier for the first family since 1947, but the history of the tradition dates back further than that. Though the exact origin is disputed, The White House says it is often stated that President Lincoln pardoned the first turkey in 1863. 

President Biden laughed as he swore he wasn't old enough to have taken part in the first ceremony.

As for the turkeys, Liberty and Bell were raised as part of the "presidential flock" in Willmar, Minnesota, where Jennie-O is headquartered.

"They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected, of course, from weather extremes and predators, in a barn, free to walk about with constant access to water and feed," said Steve Lykken, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, at a press conference.

Lykken said the turkeys were prepared to be in the spotlight. They listened to all kinds of music and sounds to get comfortable with large crowds.

"I can confirm they are in fact Swifties, and they do enjoy some Prince," Lykken said.

At the ceremony, President Biden gave a shout-out to family farmers.

"Thanks to all the families across America who feed and fuel our nation – and the world I might add," he said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, President Biden said this "was a time to remind ourselves — and we sometimes forget this — how we have so much to be thankful for as a nation."

"This week we’ll gather with the people we love and the traditions that each of us have built up with our own families," said the president. 

He also honored former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at the age of 96.

"We’ll also think about the loved ones we’ve lost, including just yesterday, we lost former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who walked her own path inspiring a nation and the world along the way."

The turkey pardon took place at the South Lawn this year instead of the Rose Garden. 

When the turkeys leave D.C., they’ll head to their new home at the University of Minnesota.

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